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Friday, Aug. 27, 2010
Flagrant disregard of disclosure
The 6th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Hiroshima has held 22 news conferences, at the urging of the media, to address the Aug. 18 crash of a coast guard helicopter in the Inland Sea. This is due to the headquarters' attempt to hide information regarding circumstances of the accident. Its behavior has betrayed public trust in the Japan Coast Guard.
The helicopter crashed at 3:10 p.m. on Aug. 18 when it hit a 1.2-km-long power line between two islands about 15 km northwest of Tadotsu port in Kagawa Prefecture, killing all five men aboard. At first the headquarters said the helicopter was on patrol, but at a news conference from 8 p.m. on Aug. 19, it disclosed that the crash occurred between the first and second demonstration flight to be shown to legal trainees from the Okayama District Public Prosecutors Office. The trainees were aboard a patrol ship about 17 km away on a special familiarization cruise.
An official who handled the news conference said he had not mentioned the demonstration flights because he feared that talking about them would "cause trouble" for the legal trainees. But pressed by reporters, he said he learned about the demonstration flights on the morning of Aug. 19 when he read e-mail from the Mizushima Coast Guard Office to which the patrol boat belonged.
On Aug. 21, the headquarters admitted that it set out to hide the information. In a meeting shortly after 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 18, high-ranking officials at the coast guard headquarters received a report about the demonstration flights from the coast guard's Hiroshima air base where the helicopter was based, and decided — with the approval of the headquarters chief — not to disclose these details.
It is clear that officials did not heed the basic principle of disclosing all relevant information so that an investigation could accurately determine the cause of the crash. It is also strange that the headquarters did not disclose until Aug. 21 that, at the time of the crash, the copilot was in the pilot's seat for a pilot certification test. The Japan Transport Safety Board should find out why the copter was flying so low that it hit the power line at an altitude of 50 to 100 meters and why the headquarters tried to withhold related data.